Umphrey's McGee | NYE Run | Chicago | Review | Pics

Words by: Jeremy Frazier | Images by: Chad Smith

Umphrey's McGee :: 12.29.10-12.31.10 :: The Riviera Theatre :: Chicago, IL

Big gallery of the run in Chicago at the bottom of this review!

12.29.10

Brendan Bayliss – 12.29.10 by Chad Smith
Umphrey's McGee has been a cornerstone of live music in Chicago for better than a decade. Their New Year's Eve runs are the stuff of legend, but they have decided to move onto new pastures starting next year. So, the people of Chicago got one last run to solidify how much Umphrey's McGee loves them. It's safe to say they went out with a serious bang.

The Riviera Theatre in Uptown was the detonation site for the entire 2010 run. Reportedly, only the second two nights officially sold out, however, the first night still had the feel of a sold out show - it was packed to the gills. They began their final Chicago run with a message. "Bridgeless," a song that goes well as an encore, came charging out of the gate and let everyone know that they meant business. Mid-set brought an extended "Utopian Fir" that slipped into dark and brooding reggae jam. It was very unique; I had never heard a dub/reggae energy brought to such a sinister level. The first set ended with a cover of Bob Seger's "Hollywood Nights." It definitely made the crowd sing along with Jake Cinninger's perfectly tuned Seger voice. But all in all, it felt like a strange way to end a set. In fact, as you will soon read, it was the only set of the entire run that didn't end with a sledgehammer of a song.

They returned for the second set with "Much Obliged," a classic song that led right into the reprise of "Bridgeless." This is a staple combo, as if the songs are almost meant for each other like the Grateful Dead's "Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain." A little later came "Tribute To The Spinal Shaft," which was a serious crowd mover. This song is one of those high-octane, guitar-driven, dance-fuel songs that simply won't let you stand still. The end of the set brought a fantastic combo of "The Triple Wide > Ocean Billy." "Triple Wide" is normally a straight-up untzy freakshow thanks to Andy Farag's quick fingers, but this night they generated a thick, spacey jam section led by the low tones of Ryan Stasik, which had a different feel than usual. The absolute highlight of the first night was "Ocean Billy." Not only was the song fiendishly intense but it also showcased the best of the brilliant mind of light director Jefferson Waful, who took a literal interpretation of the song and utilized an aquatic blue lighting scheme for most of the song. But near the end, when Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss locked into multiple brief periods of frantic shredding, Waful flipped the switch to a dangerous palette of bloody red. The jagged lights made the air appear like a vicious shark attack and added a visually interpretative dimension to the music that no other light director in America creates.

This song was absolutely stunning but the encore didn't let the energy level fall a millimeter. Though not typically used as an encore, "Hurt Bird Bath" perfectly fit the intensity needed to follow up "Billy." This song was absolutely electrifying and the interplay between the synthesizers of Joel Cummins and the guitars of Bayliss and Cinninger is some of the best in their entire catalogue. This song is a personal favorite and this was one of the most outrageous versions I've ever heard. What an opening night!

12.29.10 Setlist
Set I: Bridgeless > Conduit, Utopian Fir, Search 4, Push The Pig > Hollywood Nights*
Set II: Much Obliged > Bridgeless, Bad Poker, Tribute To The Spinal Shaft, Made To Measure > 2nd Self, Peg**, The Triple Wide > Ocean Billy
Encore: Hurt Bird Bath

* = Bob Seger cover
** = Steely Dan cover

12.30.10

Umphrey's McGee – 12.30.10 by Chad Smith
The second (and most metal) night of the run began on an aggressive note with "Prowler." Umphrey's has a knack for naming their songs and this one indeed sounded like a jaguar creeping in the dark. A little later on in the first set, "JaJunk" arrived with a stupefying jam section. "JaJunk" is often used as a sandwich song due to its powerful closing arrangement, but on this night they used the middle of the song as a platform for a powerful, exploratory jam that went above and beyond the typical "JaJunk" jam stew. This was definitely the "improv jam" of the entire weekend.

Remember how I mentioned their propensity for bringing the thunder with the set closing songs? Well, they did exactly that with a dastardly "Mulche's Odyssey." This song always gets eaten up by the crowd, and the usual singing-along swept through the audience like wildfire. The only way to describe this song is explosive, like a hydrogen bomb was dropped into The Riviera. This was as aggressive as it gets and sent everyone off to set break needing a rest.

After a 30-minute intermission they came back out with the tinkling piano of "Preamble," which lead into "Mantis." This has arguably become the magnum opus from the album Mantis, and they wound this version up righteously. They meandered away from the "Mantis" into "Hangover," which indicated that they would be bringing the reprise back later. "Hangover" is certainly a fan favorite and everyone once again sang along with the lyrics that resonate so strongly with the rowdy Umphrey's fans.

Stasik announced the next song as the most requested cover and they dove into an amazing rendition of Yes' "Roundabout." This was absolutely dialed in and got everyone dancing to the highly recognizable and funky cover tune. After a bright, playful "Fussy Dutchman," they brought back "Mantis" to a massive uproar from the frothing crowd. It seemed as if the completion of the sandwich would bring the set to a close, but we were so, so wrong. Instead they unleashed a wicked "The Floor" that cranked the crowd's Rage Meter to 11. This song isn't necessarily thought of as one of Umphrey's most raging jams, but on this night the metal came through and annihilated The Riviera Theatre.

After a brief break, the boys came back out for an unexpected encore. First up was "Resolution," a ruthlessly dynamic song that alternates between mellowed-out dub grooves and fiery metal sections complete with devilishly distorted vocals. This song led right into the apex of Umphrey's McGee metal. "Pay The Snucka 3" was a hell rain of shredding insanity. This song sounded like Kirk Hammett and Yngwie Malmsteen had a musical child for the sole purpose of dicing up people's faces. Not only was the guitar work evil but Kris Myers' drumming was out of control. He was absolutely hammering on his bass drum, driving this potent song to rarefied heights. For a long time I have maintained that "Wizard Burial Ground" is their most outrageously intense song. Not anymore. "Snucka 3" was downright violent and the perfect way to wrap this incredible second night.

12.30.10 Setlist
Set I: Prowler > The Bottom Half, 2x2, JaJunk, Apeman*, Mulche's Odyssey
Set II: Mantis > Hangover, Roundabout**, Pay The Snucka > August, Gulf Stream, Fussy Dutchman > Mantis, The Floor
Encore: Resolution > Pay The Snucka III

* = The Kinks cover
** = Yes cover

12.31.10

Jake Cinninger – 12.31.10 by Chad Smith
The energy in The Riviera Theatre on New Year's Eve was markedly pumped up even before the music began. Which was good because Umphrey's charged off the blocks with force. "Nothing Too Fancy" was a serious way to start the night. It's another staple fan favorite and got everyone dancing like fools from the start. This song wandered into an awesome "In The Kitchen," which was perfectly placed to put a smile on everyone's face. There is nothing quite like an "ITK" in Chicago as absolutely everyone yelled, "As winter wrapped around CHICAGO!!!" This two-song package was the perfect opening statement for their final NYE show in this city.

Later on in the set, they introduced Jeff Coffin to bring his saxophone out for "Bright Lights." This song often has a dangerous Cinninger/Cummins jam section, but on this night they let Coffin shine with an incredible sax solo. Next, they played a new song called "Deeper" that was a little slow to build but ended up being perfect because it set the table for the sneakiest "N2F" reprise ever. The segue was undetectable, and it wasn't until "N2F" was right in my face that I realized they had been building towards it for a while. This dance frenzy brought the first set to a close with a bang.

Umphrey's McGee returned for the second set with a newish song called "Wellwishers." This tune is relatively un- dynamic compared to older material but received a huge boost from Maddog's Little Secret. After this jam, Myers left his drums and Cinninger took his seat. Myers soon returned in a black suit & sunglasses and put on one hell of a James Brown impression. He threw down some smooth dance moves and belted out "The Payback" and "Sex Machine." All Umphrey's fans know that Myers has an amazing voice and everyone was glad they showcased it on NYE. This was a pure boogie down cluster of songs, locking everyone into a fantastic mood.

A little later on came my number one favorite song, "All In Time." Everyone seemed to know all the words and this was the most passionate outpouring of fan interaction I've ever seen. The song was at a breakneck pace when, all of a sudden, they dropped off a cliff into a stew section that was a minimalist, swampy electronic jam. The energy level dropped as they played around with this section, but then, just as abruptly as it fell, "AIT" came back with a furious rage and brought the crowd energy right back as if they'd never even stopped the song. I think they did that just to see how quickly they could change 3,000 people's energy level. They succeeded.

The second set ended with an absolute monster of a song, "1348." Maddog's Little Secret came back out to push this wild song to a new level with a barrage of brass. This was, once again, the perfect rage to send us into the intermission.

UM Balloon Drop 12.31.10 by Chad Smith
The set leading into midnight began with "Hajimemashite." This is one of their most emotional, ecstatic songs and the crowd soaked it up happily. This led into a curious choice for a lead-up to the balloon drop. Not everyone recognized Beck's "Mixed Bizness" but Maddog's Little Secret and Bayliss' vocals nonetheless had the audience feeling right. This song fell away to the countdown to midnight. The energy rose as the balloon nets burst open and drenched the theatre in colorful orbs. Cannons full of confetti and glitter blasted off and joined the balloons to create a mammoth, visually stimulating scene. "Auld Lang Syne" is the classic way to do NYE and it was a joyous moment as they played while the color in the air settled into the crowd. Everyone seemed to be as overwhelmed with happiness as I was.

The first song of 2011 was "Partyin' Peeps," which was fitting because we should all be trying to have as much fun as possible in 2011. The set wound on and soon they were introducing Cody Dickinson for a version of "Slacker." This song featured a crazy jam with Dickinson and Cinninger where Dickinson's washboard sounded almost like a guitar and enabled them to have some fantastic interplay. Next up was "Booth Love" with the return of Maddog's Filthy Little Secret. This expansive jam segued into the craziest cover I've ever heard from Umphrey's. Radiohead's "National Anthem" absolutely destroyed The Riviera with a heavy, ominous and absolutely haunting energy that soaked straight through to one's soul. It was a freakishly dense sound complete with a terrifying light show. This was as powerful as live music gets and wrapped the set with an energy far removed from the typical Umphrey's flow.

They returned for the encore and Bayliss reminded everyone not to be sad about the future (i.e. no more Umphrey's NYE runs in Chicago) but rather to focus on the now (a ridiculously ecstatic NYE concert). Myers came to center stage one more time to take the mic for an awesome, funky rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke." This was a joyous tune that definitely made everyone feel it all over. They then went back to the normal arrangement for arguably their finest instrumental composition and certainly one of the most special songs they have. "Glory" was absolutely ecstatic. It punched a hole straight through the roof and gave me the musical tingles like nothing else. They ended the night with "40s Theme," one of their most enjoyable songs. Its lyrical sections are fantastic and recognizable, but the jam section is where all the magic happened. It was a straightforward version of the jam but it was absolutely flawless, with Cinninger and Bayliss locking in for one last phenomenal bout of guitar interplay. This was an explosive way to end the final NYE run in Chicago, sending everyone out on three songs we can all remember as the best of Umphrey's McGee.

New covers, special guests and pushing the boundaries of musical fusion, this NYE show had absolutely everything a UM fan could hope for. Not only that, but sound caresser Kevin Browning got every drop of sound possible out of the magnificent Rivera Theatre. Together they gave Chicago some of the best they've ever done and I was extremely lucky to be a part of something so incredible. This was easily one of the best displays of live music I have ever witnessed. Thank you, Umphrey's McGee!

12.31.10 Setlist
Set I: Nothing Too Fancy > In The Kitchen, Rocker 2, Nemo, Bright Lights#, Deeper* > Nothing Too Fancy
Set II: Wellwishers^, James Brown Medley^@, Andy's Last Beer^, All In Time, Ringo, Demolition Man^**, 1348^
Set III: Hajimemashite, Mixed Bizness^***,> Auld Lang Syne^ > Partyin' Peeps^, Miss Tinkle's Overture, Higgins, Slacker%, Booth Love^ > National Anthem^****
Encore: Sir Duke^@*****, Glory, 40s Theme

# = with Jeff Coffin
^ = with Maddog's Little Secret
@ = with Myers on vocals, Jake on drums
% = with Cody Dickinson
* = new song
** = The Police cover
*** = Beck cover
**** = Radiohead cover
***** = Stevie Wonder cover



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[Published on: 1/3/11]

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